Father Dan Dower of the Diocese of Tyler was in Rome last Sunday for the canonization of St. Teresa of Calcutta. Over the years, Father Dower had the privilege of meeting the future saint several times.
In the summer of 1976, I attended the International Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia. I had just been accepted as a seminarian and was preparing to attend Boston College for my undergraduate studies. For me, the most exciting part of the trip was that Pope Paul VI himself was going to be there. I was so thrilled that I was going to see the Vicar of Christ in person. Unfortunately, as it turned out, he had to cancel his trip due to poor health. I was profoundly disappointed.
The day after learning of the Pope’s cancelation, however, my friends and I attended a conference which we learned upon arriving was going to feature several important speakers: Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa. I stopped being disappointed. The moment I learned who was going to be there I was determined to meet them all. After all, I thought, I missed the Pope, I’m not missing these three.
First, I walked over to where Archbishop Sheen was sitting, crouched down beside him and asked for his autograph. I did the same for Dorothy Day. Mother Teresa was more difficult as she was arriving via a special VIP entrance. Somehow I managed to find my way past security (doubtless something I could do today) and waited for her arrival. Suddenly an old station wagon pulled up and out from the front passenger side came Mother Teresa. As I watched her slowly climb the stairs and walk in my direction, I approached and greeted her (as if I had suddenly been appointed the official welcoming committee) and I handed her a note I had written asking her to pray for me and two guys with me who were also entering the seminary. Then something extraordinary happened – she clasped my folded hands between hers, much like a Bishop does when a priest promises obedience to him and his successors. And she spoke to me. I wish I could tell you what she said, but I don’t have a clue what or for how long she spoke to me. All I could think of then and remember today was that this great woman who had held so many and one who had done so much with those very hands was now holding and touching my hands.
My volunteer work in the early 1980s while at the North American College in Rome brought several other occasions where I was able to meet and speak with Mother Teresa, and I am so blessed to have been able to do that. I know, of course that many, many more people have worked with or had a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Mother Teresa. I also know as well, that by virtue of Holy Orders, through the laying on of hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit my own hands are now consecrated over and over again every time I celebrate the Eucharist and hold within them the Body of Christ Himself. So why have I come to Rome this week?
I have come to Rome to remember Mother Teresa’s hands once again. I have come to Rome to be in the presence of the Successor of Peter who, speaking infallibly, will declare what the Church and the world have known for these past nineteen years since her death; namely, that those hands which once held mine for such a brief moment are now being held by Him who created them for eternity. I have come to Rome to ask St. Teresa of Calcutta to pray for me and all priests that we too may have the hands of Christ.
– Father Dower is pastor of Christ the King Church in Kilgore, Texas, and serves as Episcopal Vicar for Education for the Diocese of Tyler.